EDMONTON — Ontario’s Glenn Howard appeared well on his way to a yet another final at the Canadian men’s curling championship until his last shot of a playoff game against Manitoba on Saturday.
The defending champion missed in the worst possible way, pushing his own counter at the top of the rings wide and completely missing at attempted double takeout.
After trailing the entire game, Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton suddenly had a draw for three points and win.
The veteran skip required his three sweepers to drag his stone into the rings for the 7-6 victory, indicating that Stoughton himself was taken aback by that sudden turn of events.
"I haven’t digested this win," Stoughton said. "When something like that happens. It’s a little surreal because you’re not expecting to win.
"I thought I might have pulled the string on that last one. Thank goodness the guys got it there."
So Stoughton will play in Sunday night’s championship game. He’ll face the winner of an all-Ontario morning semifinal involving Howard and Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs. Jacobs downed Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador 6-5 in an extra end in a later playoff game.
History favours Stoughton, a three-time Brier winner in 1996, 1999 and 2011.
In beating Ontario in the Page playoff between the top two seeds, Stoughton’s record in what is called "the one-two game" improved to 4-0. He’s won a Brier title every time he’s been the victor in the one-two game, which is a trend Stoughton wants to continue.
"We’re really going to look forward to that final," Stoughton said.
Third Jon Mead has won a pair of titles with Stoughton, second Reid Carruthers was with them in 2011 and Mark Nichols, Gushue’s former third, joined the Winnipeg team prior to this season.
Howard has skipped Ontario to the Brier final six of the seven previous years and won twice, in 2007 and 2012. But his road to a seventh lengthened with a decision that generated much post-game debate.
Ontario’s counter at the top of the rings partially covered Manitoba’s top stone. Howard could have chosen a low-risk raise instead of a thin double. But the skip refused to second-guess himself.
"I don’t regret the call," Howard stated. "I make a shot to win the game. I never dreamed I would tick my own. Lo and behold we did. I feel bad for the boys because we controlled that whole game. The bottom line is I missed."
The 50-year-old skip was more annoyed at the prospect of an 8:30 a.m. semifinal when his team was required to attend the tournament banquet Saturday evening, compounded by the fact they would also lose an hour of sleep to clocks moving ahead.
"We’ve got to curl the semifinal at 8:30 tomorrow, which is brilliant," Howard said with sarcasm. "Daylight Savings Time and a banquet tonight. Brilliant."
The schedules of both the Canadian men’s and women’s championships were back-end loaded this year. More games on the final weekend means higher ratings for the host broadcaster. Prior to this year, the semifinal was played the night before the final.
Howard finished first in the preliminary round at 10-1 followed by Stoughton at 8-3. Newfoundland and Northern Ontario also finished at 8-3, but were seeded third and fourth.
Jacobs controlled the playoff between the third and fourth seeds, scoring two points in the third and fifth ends to lead 4-2. Gushue tied the game with a steal of one in the 10th, however.
The Northern Ontario skip attempted to come through a port for a raise takeout and the win. Jacobs clipped the guards and then pointed to the stands, complaining of a camera light that distracted him.
"Some kid, right down the line I was throwing, had a video camera with a bright light and I shouldn’t have thrown," Jacobs explained. "I thought it was going to go away and it didn’t go away. I messed me right up."
But Jacobs had the hammer in the extra end when misfortune swung to Newfoundland. Second Adam Casey’s first rock picked up debris en route to the house and his second throw didn’t make the hog-line.
Jacobs faced a draw to the four-foot rings against two Newfoundland stones for a berth in the semifinal and made it.
"I wasn’t even nervous on the last shot," Jacobs said. "We’ve curled long enough now and I’ve thrown that shot enough times in decently-large situations to just go out there and throw. A big reason why we made that shot is I feel like I’ve been drawing pretty well all week."
Gushue has made the playoffs seven times in 10 Brier appearances, but a Canadian title continues to elude him. He’ll play for bronze Sunday against the semifinal loser. His St. John’s team was inexperienced in big games and the skip says it showed.
"We never really put much pressure on Brad," Gushue said. "It’s their first time in a single game where all 10,000 eyes are on you and your back is against the wall at the Brier. We did grind hard and force him to make his last rock. I’m proud of them for the way they played all week and how they battled today."
"What we need to do from here on in is get in that situation a little bit more, get in those situations in the Slams so next year when we come back here we’ll be better prepared."